Samsung launched their Galaxy S4 across the world, including South Africa, on 25 April 2013, but while the device will only be available to consumers tomorrow, select media have received review units to test out for two weeks.
The device comes in a brown biodegradable and recyclable cardboard-ish box, which is a stark departure from the packaging for the Galaxy S3. The hard box corresponds with the colour of the phone selected by the user.
This time around it seems that both the white and the black S4s come in the same packaging.
Inside the box, users will get the usual goodies that go with a new smartphone – earphones, USB charger (which doubles as a PC connector), two-pin wall plug, user manual, and extra cups for the earphones, as well as the battery which users will have to insert manually.
Even with the battery not inserted, users will notice that the device is noticeably lighter than the S3 - and thinner. The screen is .2-inches bigger, but of much better quality, and the front end now houses two extra sensors for air gestures and better recognition. The power button is still on the right edge, while the volume also remained on the left. Flipping the phone over, the camera size has stayed the same, but the flash is slightly smaller and now resides under the camera, instead of next to it. The speakers have also been moved to the bottom half of the S4′s backing.
Switching on the device for the first time, previous users of Samsung devices will immediately notice that the start jingle has changed somewhat, and it has a bit of a spring in its step – for good reason. The lock screen will still require the user to swipe across it to unlock the phone, and after selecting the country of operation, users will be guided through all the sign-in processes that goes together with an Android device. During normal operation, messages and missed calls will display more prominently.
By default, the Home Screen has all the widget and placements that go together with a new Samsung device, as the 4×2 weather widget occupying the top, the Google search bar just beneath it, and the default email, camera Samsung Apps and Play Store apps located underneath that. The bottom static row of apps can be customised to suit the user’s usage patterns, but by default they are Phone, Contacts, Messaging, Internet and the (all) App button.
Flipping through the four additional screens, most of the default Samsung apps that come pre-installed on the device are scattered throughout. Story Album (in which users can create an interactive album and print out later, Walking Mate (where users can keep track of how many steps they take with S Health), Samsung Hub, S Travel (where users can get travel recommendations), Flipboard and a calendar-news combination apps full out the screens – which can obviously be customised.
Dragging down the top notification panel to access the options, a familiar view will greet users, but a number of changes have been made to this screen. While the usual quick options for Wi-Fi, GPS, sounds and Screen Rotation are still there, tapping a new “all options” button will bring down the entire range of quick options that can be selected. This is incredibly handy if users do not want to scroll through all the options, and want to access them at a quick glance. This screen can also be customised.
Tapping on the Options icon, users will notice that options have been divided into four separate tabs – Connections, My device, Accounts and More. Connections is where users would go to access the setting for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Mobile Networks and NFC.
My Device houses the options that deal with the Lock Screen, Display, Sound, Calls and Input, while the Accounts tab will give users access to all the external accounts that have been added to the device, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and the Samsung account.
More Options will take users to the settings that deal with Location Services, Security and the Device Manager (Battery, Applications Manager and Storage).
The S4 has a number of new features which makes it arguably one of the best smartphones that Samsung has produced to date. While playing a video and, if enabled, the device makes use of Smart Pause, where the video will pause during playback when the users is no longer focused on the screen. Together with that comes Smart Stay, Smart Rotation and Smart Scroll. With Smart Scroll, when a user’s eyes have been detected, the screen will scroll according to the angle at which they tilt their head or the device.
We would like to leave some surprises for users to explore on their own, but, based on first impressions straight out of the box, it is a beast of a device that not only looks incredibly good, but also sets out to do the job – and do it properly. The device has a bigger battery, faster processor, bigger screen and a lot of added functions not seen before. It fits rather comfortably in the user’s hand and ergonomically feels perfect.
While the operations are almost similar to those of the S3, users will find the updated settings refreshing, while still being easy to use and to locate for users who are not as familiar with Samsung’s design aspects. While we have only hand the device for a number hours, we have not found any fault with it (at this stage) – only that we (sadly) have to give it back in two weeks.
Charlie Fripp – Consumer Tech editor